“So, what are you doing this weekend?” your colleague Jen asks cheerfully as you grab a cup of water from the cooler. For members of the LGBT community, not too long ago this question would elicit a vague response, a half-truth which concealed a large part of their life.
“Oh, you know, maybe go for some drinks, visit a friend…” you would respond, afraid to talk about your partner or true identity.
The constant stress of hiding your personal life from your colleagues takes its toll. You hate lying and you feel like a fraud, but you don’t know how they will respond if you tell them the truth. Maybe they will start avoiding you. Maybe you’ll get fired. You live with the constant anxiety of being “discovered”.
Fast-forward to the present, and 2015 has been a great year for LGBT rights. There have been numerous legal changes in Europe and America aimed at increasing equality, the pinnacle of which was the recent landmark Supreme Court ruling which legalised gay marriage across the U.S.
Increasingly, being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender is no longer something to be hidden or supressed, but something to be accepted and celebrated. This has allowed an increasing number of LGBT people to come out in the work place without fear of prejudice or discrimination.
In fact, recent studies have shown that being open about your sexuality at work is good for business. Research conducted by OUTstanding, which surveyed over 200 senior LGBT business leaders, found that 85% of those polled feared that closeted LGBT employees waste effort and energy pretending to be someone they’re not. Suki Sandhu, chief executive and founder of OUTstanding, says: “Fundamentally, inclusion is about productivity. If you foster an environment of inclusiveness it allows you to retain the best talent, encourage innovation and empower employees to bring their whole selves to work.”
That doesn’t mean coming out is an easy thing to do, and businesses must play an integral part in creating a culture of equality and ensuring their environment is one where staff feel empowered to do so.
So, how do businesses foster this kind of environment?
Here are some pointers from Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index:
- By producing and implementing comprehensive and clear anti-discrimination policies
- Through robust engagement with all staff from the most senior levels of the organisation
- Through staff diversity training and development
- By establishing employee LGBT networks
- By using inclusive language and imagery across company materials
- By being part of Stonewall’s LGBT Role Models Programme
Businesses large and small across the U.K. are placing increasing importance on diversity and inclusion, recognising the value that a diverse workplace brings to teams. Make sure your company is doing the same, so when Jen approaches her colleague at the water cooler and asks what they’re up to this weekend, they can tell her the whole truth.